The Language of Science

2 Feb 1997
Here I intend to accumulate thoughts and links that fall broadly in the realm of the ways language is used in the sciences. The project arises out of my realization, as I've struggled to comprehend Organic Chemistry, that my difficulties are primarily linguistic: that I need a better understanding (or better yet, a better mapping) of the lexicon of Marcia's lectures. Furthermore, that the problem faced by all students of science is exactly to make an effective mapping of the complex and highly developed terminology that makes up most scientific discourse, written or spoken.

The broader implications of that insight suggest that there are possibilities for the improvement of the teaching and learning process, and specifically for the textbook as a medium of communication. I glimpse very hazily a hypertext future for pedagogy, in which the process of composition and likewise the act of study is very different from what now seems to be the dominant mode.

Come to think of it, I don't have a very clear notion of the history of the textbook, either generally or in particular sciences, and likewise not too clear an idea of how teaching has changed in, say, the last century.
This is really a theory of human knowledge, saying that **it's in the links** and it's **linguistic**. The notion of terminology as syntax of knowledge is one that needs work, but has these elements: Put those together and you have a knowledge domain which can totally encompass all of what's traditionally presented [in linear fashion] in the traditional introductory textbook. An alternative learning format which concentrates on the multiplicity of links and on the act of mapping their semantic space.

I tried some AltaVista searches for 'language of science', but really didn't find anything worth linking. And there don't seem to be many books with the phrase in their titles (though I remember one by Dantzig called Number: the language of science over which I puzzled in 1959):
 AUTHOR       Dantzig, Tobias, 1884-1956.
 TITLE        Number, the language of science; a critical survey 
                written for the cultured non-mathematician
 EDITION      3rd ed., rev. and augm.
 PUBLISHER    New York, The Macmillan Company, 1939.
 SUBJECT      Number concept.
              Arithmetic -- Foundations.
 1 > Leyburn Library        QA9 .D2 1939
One of the bits of this has to do with the OED as a means to analyze this 'language of science', and thusfar all I've done is confirm my recollection that it was William Whewell [in 1840] who coined the word "scientist" (at least that's what the OED indicates). Just what I'll do with that track I don't yet know.

The home library turned up Raymond Williams' Keywords: a vocabulary of culture and society which had (as I remembered) an entry for 'science'. By the 18th c. :

The meaning that was thus coming through, from the whole body of learning, had elements both of method and of demonstration, at a theoretical level; science was a kind of knowledge or argument, rather than a kind of subject... (233)
Williams quotes Whewell 1840:
...we need very much a name to describe a cultivator of science in general. I should incline to call him a scientist.
8 Feb 97
In the last week I once again got access to the OED online, and I'm beginning to think of ways to work on 'language of science' through that resource. I did searches for scientist and Whewell as cited author, but haven't yet massaged them into a form to link here. And I did a bit of experimenting with Darwin too. Those things will certainly find a place before too long.